Stuart King

Review: THEN, NOW & NEXT at Southwark Playhouse

It’s taken 10 years (and lockdown) for writers Christopher J Orton and Jon Robyn to transition their random thoughts and ideas — formed during a lull in performing Spamalot one afternoon in 2013 — into a stageable version of THEN, NOW & NEXT.

Peter Hannah (Peter), Alice Fearn (Alex Shaw), Tori Allen-Martin (Woman), Justin Brett (Man) - credit Pamela RaithPeter Hannah (Peter), Alice Fearn (Alex Shaw), Tori Allen-Martin (Woman), Justin Brett (Man) - credit Pamela Raith

Just opened at the Southwark Playhouse, the musical boasts a cast of 5 and focuses on the life journey of a woman Alex Shaw (Alice Fearn) who has encountered tragedy and subsequently drifts through a relationship, motherhood and finds herself aimlessly waiting for life’s meaning to present itself.

Boasting an opening reminiscent (at least in style) of Sondheim’s Company, the small scale production’s pared-back approach enables the audience to engage with the many touchy-feely elements of emotional introspection. But the show is much more than a wallowfest under Julie Atherton’s tidy yet empathetic direction, with comedy moments peppered throughout elevating the drama-school motifs into a musical with far greater promise and potential. Whilst it may not not be entirely there yet (and certainly it has a way to go before reaching the heady heights of the aforementioned Company) it can certainly bear favourable comparison with the likes of Once and indeed Come From Away (a show in which our leading lady not long ago appeared at the Phoenix Theatre). Ms Fearn is joined on stage by Joaquin Pedro Valdes as the lover she loses, while her present partner and father to her child, is played with a naive and engaging charm by Peter Hannah. Tori Allen-Martin and Justin Brett complete the cast with an array characters who veer from poignant to hilarious, gluing vignettes together, whilst avoiding the whole from ever feeling forced or allowing it to descend into pastiche.

A host of barely noticeable sound and lighting segues enable scenes to transition and morph across time frames, with the production’s minimalist staging and props wheeled into position to make sense of each scene. Over all, this is a musical with a great deal going for it and undoubted potential.